The “Babe,” but Not Ruth!
There are currently thirty female golfers who have been inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame and all of them are legends of golf from the past 100 years. Many are household names, such as Julie Inkster, Annika Sorenstam, Karrie Webb and Nancy Lopez, but was "Mildred" the best golfer and female athlete who ever played the game?
Born June 26, 1911 in Port Arthur, Texas, Mildred came from a large family of seven children. Her parents were immigrants from Norway and struggled to make ends meet.
As a young girl, she loved to play sandlot baseball with the boys and was given the nickname "Babe," when she hit five home runs in one game.
She did odd jobs to help her parents, but eventually dropped out of high school and moved to Dallas for work and to play in an industrial basketball league.
Playing for the Employer's Casualty Insurance Company's Gold Cyclones, she lead her team to an AAU Championship in 1931, but next year excelled in the 1932 AAU track and field championships.
Mildred set four world records (competing as a one-person team) and won the team championship, winning five out of ten events and tying the sixth. Her world records were in the javelin throw, 80-meter hurdles, high jump and baseball throw.
Later that year Babe had two major events change her life and propel her into legendary status as a female Jim Thorpe. The first was internationally acclaimed when she won two gold medals and one silver medal in track and field events at the Olympics in Los Angeles. The other life changer was when she picked up a golf club.
The Rest of the Story:
Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson was on her way to becoming the 10th greatest overall athlete in the 20th century as picked by the Associated Press and ESPN in early 2000.
She began to play golf for recreation as she toured with the House of David baseball team for a year after the Olympics, but took up the game seriously in 1935 and won the Texas Women's Open Championship. She loved the game of golf, but still found time for her travelling professional women's basketball team and a pool championship tournament in New York.
In 1938, she just missed the cut in the men's PGA Open and later that year had another life changing event: She married a professional wrestler named George Zaharias. While her husband supported her, she re-applied for her amateur status and concentrated on playing golf.
From 1943-1948, she won sixteen consecutive amateur events including the British Women's Amateur Championship in 1947.
This led her to turn pro the next year and from 1948-1953, she won 31 out of 128 events.
Babe had her greatest year in 1950, when she won the Grand Slam for women golfers. Her wins came in the Women's Western Open, the U.S. Women's Open and the Titleholders Championship, in addition to being the leading money winner for the year.
In 1951, she was inducted into the Women's Golf Hall of Fame, while continuing to lead all female golfers on the money list in the current year and again in 1951.
In 1953, she was diagnosed with colon cancer and in 1954, playing in pain and only month after her surgery she recorded her last major win, but the end was near for the world's greatest female athlete.
Her cancer returned in 1955 and Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias died on September 26, 1957.
19th Hole Trivia
• As a young adult, Babe recorded a bestselling record for Mercury Records entitled "I Felt a Little Tear Drop."
• Her husband George was a professional wrestler and part-time actor. The couple had no children.
• Babe was also an expert bowler, roller skater, diver and harmonica player.
• In 2000, Golf Digest ranked her as the 17th best golfer (male or female) of all time and the second best female golfer of all time. (They ranked Mickey Wright first.)
• She was inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame in 1977.
• Babe Zaharias has a museum and golf course named after her in her home town of Beaumont, Texas.
• Bobby Jones once said, “Babe is one of the top ten golfers to ever play the game.” (He meant women and men.)
• If you aren’t impressed with all her golfing achievements, remember she accomplished all her wins in only seven years as a pro.